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Cheap Eats in Queens, From Florist to Temple via Tibet

Xi'An Famous Foods
The spicy cumin lamb burger at Xi'An Famous Foods was the finest dish of the day in a test of restaurants in Queens, New York. Anthony Bourdain is a fan. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg.

Fancy lunch in Queens?

How about 10 in a day?

Here are some hidden gems for inexpensive Asian fare in unlikely locations, from a flower shop to a Hindu temple. They are to be found on a food safari with the writer Joe DiStefano.

While you don’t need a big wallet -- prices start at $75 -- you do need a huge appetite. Here’s how we do lunch in Queens.

Taipei Hong: This counter at the back of a small food court on Roosevelt Avenue, in Flushing, serves salty nuggets of fried chicken. The meat is cooked to order and is soft beneath the crunchy coating. It’s $4. Other options include pig-knuckles rice and fish filet with sour-cabbage soup.

Li’s Lanzhou Hand Stretched Noodles: This is tucked away in the basement of the New World Mall, where most signs and customers are Chinese. The guo tie pork-and-leek pot stickers ($5.85) are outstanding. They come topped with a wafer-thin sheet of batter. You break through with your chopsticks to reach them. This is a dish with visual appeal that tastes great. Two other shoppers stopped to take photographs of our food to discuss it. It was the second-best single dish of the day.

Soy Bean Chen Flower Shop: This Flushing establishment takes the prize for novelty. Tofu is served from a corner counter in a florist. It’s soft and fresh and comes with a spicy or sweet-ginger sauce. You sit amid the flowers on a stool while the owner -- who just identifies himself as Soy-Bean Chen -- entertains you. While conversation may be limited if you don’t speak Chinese, the warmth of the welcome needs no translation.

White Bear: This simple restaurant is the place for wonton with hot sauce, no soup $4.50. There’s a wide choice of dumplings and this is a place of pilgrimage for aficionados.

Corner 28: This tiny stall serves Peking duck wraps for $1. You might not think they could be very good for that price. They are. Standing on a crowded sidewalk eating duck for a buck is a treat.

Xi’an Famous Foods: This basement venue may feel like a hidden gem, but Anthony Bourdain is among those who have discovered it. Other branches will soon include one on the Upper West Side.

Wherever you go, the spicy cumin lamb burger ($3.25) is superb. It was the best of about 15 dishes I tried in Queens. The tiger vegetable salad ($4.75) with cilantro, green peppers, green onions, celery and jalapeno peppers, dressed in a sesame vinaigrette, came close. Information:

Ganesh Temple Canteen: The full name of this Hindu temple is Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam. It is quite a mouthful before you even get to the canteen, in a basement reached via steps at the side of the building. It’s like eating in a gymnasium, only the vegetarian food is probably better. The paper dosa ($3.50) -- a crepe that’s bigger than your head -- is a must. Information:

Phayul: Of all the establishments I visited, this small upstairs restaurant serving Tibetan food was the most charming. Block out the sounds and sights of Jackson Heights and you might be in Lhasa. (To be honest, the closest I’ve come is Kathmandu, but you know what I mean.) Momo dumplings are the house specialty and there are six varieties, including Ja Sha (chicken) at $4.99. Another specialty is Tsak Sha Chu Rul beef & Tibet cheese soup. It is spicy and tangy. Butter tea is served.

Baul Daada Jal Muri Shop: This is a Jackson Heights food cart whose owner combines an array of nuts and chickpeas and dressings by hand into a crunchy mix, squirting in mustard and other lubricants. It’s like watching a skilled barman creating a fine martini. Alas, the flavor isn’t that of a fine martini but in terms of spectacle, it’s up there.

Tawa Food: OK, I admit it. I wasn’t eating this much by this stage and I’m going to have to take it on trust that it was authentic Himalayan fare at the Dhaulagiri Kitchen, inside Tawa Food. My food-spattered notes mention goat offal, beans with anchovies in spicy sauce, cucumber and green-pea pickle. Rock music played and a television showed Bollywood movies. Sorry, I am going to have to lie down now.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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